Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Bebe Ding is one of the masterminds behind one of Singapore’s hottest spin studio CruCycle, alongside her siblings, Calvin and Valerie. They have gone on to launch another successful fitness venture, CruBox, which incorporates boxing techniques with strength training. But success doesn’t come easy. Here, Bebe shares with us the struggles she faced as a young entrepreneur and how she has got through them.
So Bebe, bring us to the beginning: How was the idea of CruCycle crystallised? This was eight years ago — I was 22 at the time and finishing college in Los Angeles, California. Growing up, my siblings and I spent a large amount of time there as our parents loved LA. With it being the fitness mecca of the world (besides New York), we were exposed to different fitness classes and enjoyed attending them.
When we were back in Singapore to visit, we would hang out with friends and watch movies all the time, but there was so little you could do. It was then we had this idea to bring the LA fitness culture to Singapore. We decided to start our own brand called CRU.
During my senior year of university, my brother and I worked remotely from LA. From incorporating the company, putting all my ducks in a row for graduation, then coming back to Singapore and working on the business right away - it was tough. I doubt I could have done it without my siblings.
Interesting. And how did the name Cru come about? Cru means organic in French. We wanted our brand to emulate organic growth in all aspects whether spiritually, mentally, physically or emotionally. There are several things that an individual can work on when they attend a fitness class and it’s really about their own fitness journey. We train all our instructors to unleash every individual’s potential to overcome their personal roadblocks because there is so much more to it than merely working out.
And what is your vision for CruCycle? Initially, we wanted to bring something fun for our friends to do together. My siblings and I are very close in age, and we are highly social people. Naturally, we grew up going out with each other and had the same circle of friends. We created this community around ourselves unintentionally, and the support of our friends helped us spread the word, which is why CruCycle was so powerful from the beginning. We didn't spend any money on marketing whatsoever.
Of course, we saw the potential for CruCycle to become a lucrative business. We were raised in a family of business owners; we took that chance and really chose to invest 100% into it. No, 200%. We want to grow CruCycle into different boutique studios all over the world. We already have CruBox for boxing, but we want to do it all, I won’t say what else we have planned.
I’m sure it wasn’t an easy ride to success. What were some of the challenges you had to face?
Oh, there are so many! For example, we had to tell our team of about 50 people that we have to close for over a month due to the COVID-19 situation. It was pretty heartbreaking.
Starting CruCycle at such a young age was also scary for me. From the responsibility of decision making to being worried about getting respect from staff older than me. In addition, stepping up to become an instructor was challenging. My brother and I trained to be the first batch of instructors because it was difficult to find good ones in Singapore at the time. I was not super physically fit and when we started training, I was definitely the worst amongst the rest. There was a lot of pressure to keep up and become the model instructors we envisioned CruCycle to have.
How about between you and your siblings? What is it like to work alongside them and do you get into arguments? For the first couple of years, there were several instances of toe-stepping and many more arguments as we had no idea what we were doing. We kept on trying until we found what we were all good at, or what we enjoyed doing. Naturally, we each began to handle different aspects of the business.
I currently look after all the instructors and their training. My brother takes charge of operations, and my sister handles marketing and PR. But of course we all have input at the end of the day. In the beginning, it was all kind of confusing, but this is what we have found to work best after five years in the business.
On making decisions, thankfully, there are three of us and we will always have a third person to make or break the decision. It's not easy, especially when we have distinct and strong personalities. At the end of the day, it's a family-run company. My parents are not too involved, but they do step in to give us some advice sometimes. My dad has been a businessman for his whole working career and we have other family members who also help us out.
Over the course of running CruCycle/CruBox, have you learnt anything about yourself? I realise that running a business is separate from being a leader. It's great if you can be both and that's something I've been working on as I don't want to be just a “boss”. It's important for me to be a leader as well because I want to be a positive influence. I want to be someone that can be looked up to and respected on my own personal name, and I’ve learnt that respect is earned and not given. It's really important to always be in a position where I can better someone else's day with little actions or interactions that I could have with them, whether the person is a staff or a client.
I've also been reflecting on what I'd gone through in the last six years, especially as we plan our next steps. I am more of that person now, which is a big thing because, before that, I was trying to be that leader and learning how to be that person.
What do you have in store for Cru next? We have numerous plans like opening more studios! I’m not going to reveal details yet, but it’s definitely in the pipeline once the current situation improves.
Besides your business, is there anything else you like to do?
I'm always reading self-improvement books, biographies of great leaders or listening to podcasts. I'm also doing my online school to get my Nutritionist license as well, so I'm always learning. That's why making sure that someone who interacts with me is learning something is important; it’s something I prioritise on a daily basis. It's the same thing in my business because I hold the role of Master Trainer and have to interact with all the instructors. It's my job to provide organic growth by learning as much as I can, feeding my interest in helping people grow and learn, then teaching them, since that's what our brand is based on.
Is there anyone who inspires you? You should check out @chelseakauai on Instagram! She’s a professional adventurer and I would love to be like her. She swims with sharks one day, whales another, and lives in Hawaii. Her business is not based on running a huge company or managing 1,000 people. Rather, it’s about being herself and making money off having adventures. Very different from what I do!
Tell us a quote you live by! “If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space”; it says a lot about taking risks. You have to be daring and believe in your products and your vision.
As part of the new YWLC Kicking it Back with Kickass Ladies Series, we will be featuring young women trailblazers like Bebe to share their stories. Interested to join us at our upcoming Kicking It Back with Kickass Ladies and AMA event with Bebe at CruCycle? Registrations are open for this members-exclusive event: Date: 28 February 2021, Sunday Time: 4:40pm - 6pm Register here. Keep your eyes peeled on this space and on our social media pages for more #kickassladies interviews and events coming your way. #kickassladiesseries Click here to subscribe to YWLC's monthly newsletter and be the first to get our latest updates in your inbox!